While the image of collaboration elicited may be of two or more researchers or research groups engaged in an endeavor, the manner in which the collaboration ultimately manifests will depend on a number of factors such as the:
nature of the research question(s) posed
purpose/scope of the proposed investigation
extent and nature of expertise required
regulations/restrictions of participating institutions
preferences of funding agencies
previous experience with potential collaborators, etc.
This section describes both the 'types' and 'formats' of research collaboration. Collaborative types refer to select characteristics of each participant or institution. These characteristics might include the professional position of collaborators (e.g. faculty, student, and laboratory director), departmental affiliation (e.g. anthropology, biology, chemistry, art, and history), nature of collaborating institutions (e.g. academic, government, and private industry), and geographic locale (domestic or international). Format, on the other hand, refers to the manner in which collaborators will interact. The topics to be discussed in this section will include:
The list of topics to be reviewed in this section includes:
- Collaborative types
- within academic institutions (university researchers)
- among faculty, staff, and administrators
- within/between departments
- faculty and students
- among students
- between academic institutions
- between academic institutions and government agencies/departments
- between academic institutions and private industry
- domestic and international
- Collaborative format
- mail (regular, postal delivery overnight, electronic)
- Impact on RCR
Within academic institutions - The category of university researchers can refer to a host of personnel, including faculty who are teaching/non-teaching, staff, administrators, and students who can be undergraduate, graduate, or post-doctoral.
Among faculty, staff and administrators -
Faculty conducting research may choose to invite colleagues sharing similar interests, relevant expertise, and who have an established research track record to initiate new projects together, or to participate in an on-going research effort.
Within/between departments - A frequent assumption made is that colleagues within the same department or discipline are familiar with the critical issues of the field. Even among individuals differing in sub-field specializations, there can be enough of a common theory, methodology, and nomenclature for collaboration to take place. However, collaboration can also be nurtured between departments and across disciplines. Projects likely to benefit are those with a multidisciplinary theme, utilizing complementary disciplines to develop innovative approaches to unsolved problems.
Faculty and students - Research conducted between faculty and students can occur in a variety of settings, 1) as assignments for research methodology courses, 2) faculty instructing students on principles of action research, 3) as a component of a mentoring relationship, 4) or as part of a collaborative endeavor with academic institutions, governmental/quasi-governmental units, or private industry concerns. Students not only gain a greater appreciation for how research is conducted in a real rather than simulated setting, but can observe both how research is applied to real world problems as well as the results from either successful or unsuccessful investigations. Students can also benefit when their performance is evaluated and critiqued by faculty. This can strengthen student research skills and encourage them to pursue future collaborative opportunities.
Among students - Research collaboration can also take place among students. These types of collaboration may occur with students of relatively equal research experience and status (considered peers), or between a student with greater experience (senior) assisting the novice research student (junior) in selecting the appropriate research design, monitoring implementation, conducting evaluation and analysis, and report writing.
Students may be engage in research activities in conjunction with assignments for research methodology courses. The purpose of these exercises are primarily to practice and refine research skills, and not necessarily with the intention of producing original research and preparing for publication. Besides providing research experience, students can learn to appreciate the value of participating in a cooperative endeavor, learning about collegiality , responsibility and accountability (Shamoo, Resnik, 2003).
Between academic institutions - Collaboration between institutions offers a number of benefits including opportunities to 1) interact with researchers having expertise in a needed area of the proposed investigation, 2) gain access to needed resources including databases, equipment, staff, and study populations, 3) gain credibility through the name recognition from prominent researchers, departments, or institutions. In addition, many times resources found lacking at one institution can be shared with a collaborating institution and vice versa. The practice of working with teams from different institutions can offer fresh perspectives to addressing research questions and avoid the pitfalls of academic inbreeding. Insights gleaned from sharing unique research experiences can result in submitting a more comprehensive proposal.
Potential collaborators demonstrating an established record of publishing on a relevant topic can enhance both opportunities for successful proposal submissions and subsequent publications as well. Collaboration between institutions also provides a mechanism to expand one's network of research contacts, which may in time lead to further collaboration.
Between academic institutions and government agencies/departments/units - Collaboration between academic institutions and government has been an established practice in the areas of socio-economic development, environmental issues, health concerns and educational challenges. There are number of mechanisms that can initiate a collaborative endeavor, 1) government agencies (local, state, national, international) may seek technical assistance from appropriate university experts to address specific problems (e.g. developing strategies to expand HIV awareness, improving reading tests scores), 2) government agencies may offer competitive funding opportunities regarding a specific theme (e.g. Encouraging economic development, supporting technological advances in communication), 3) university researchers may approach government to request cooperation in a research effort (e.g. replicating a successful intervention for homeless populations in a new location).
As with most types of collaboration, academic and government partnerships should be beneficial to both parties. Examples can be observed in a variety of disciplines (education, nursing, pharmacy, public health) with a variety of government agencies, departments and units (State and local education departments/school districts, health departments, economic development programs). For example:
- The Center for Collaborative Research in Education links educators, researchers and community members with the goal of creating a deep understanding of educational problems in the school context and to encourage evidence-based reasoning to solve these problems ( T he Center for Collaborative Research in Education, 1998).
- In 2002, a Community Academic Practice Alliance (CAPA) was forged between Marin County, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and local bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) nursing programs in order to increase opportunities for DHHS to recruit new baccalaureate registered nurses, eliminated competition among universities for community health nursing (CHN) placements, enriched experiences for BSN students, and enhanced service to the community (Ganley, Sheets, Buccheri, Thomas, Doerr-Kashani, Widergren, Bolla, Stoker, West, 2004).
Between academic institutions and private industry - In Rosenberg , Arrison, and London 's (1999) review of major trends in University-Industry collaborations, they noted that over the previous twenty years, the percentage and amount of university research supported by industry research had grown steadily. Rosenberg , Arrison, and London (1999) identified a number of factors to explain this growth. They include: (1) an increased emphasis on university research sponsored by companies; (2) faculty consulting; (3) licensing of university-owned intellectual property to existing companies; (4) university support for start-up companies in the form of loans, grants, and equity ownership; (5) "mega agreements" between individual companies and universities that cover a range of interactions; (6) research centers and other government- supported efforts to encourage university-industry collaboration; and (7) industry consortia to support university research.
A critical piece of legislation also encouraged university-industry collaborations. This legislation is known as the Patent and Trademark Laws Amendments of 1980 and its subsequent revisions, but is commonly referred to as the Bayh-Dole Act. Mowery (1998) notes this legislation both rationalized and simplified federal policy on the practice of patenting and licensing by non-profit institutions of the results of publicly funded research. According to Rosenberg , Arrison, and London (1999), " Bayh-Dole granted control to universities of most proprietary rights emerging from federally sponsored research". Massing further states, "A second contributing factor was the emergence of revolutionary advances in university-based life sciences research. Today, industry funds about 7% of university research, about double that of 20 years ago, and various indicators of university-industry interactions show continuing rapid growth" (1996).
Across geographic lines - A primary rationale for conducting research across geographic lines is that certain collaborations can only be conducted with specific international investigators, institutions, or organizations. Examples of international research collaborations include 1) an investigation of the breeding habits of rare species of reptile found in an isolated tropical area, 2) face-to-face interviews with patients who have survived from an emerging virulent infectious disease, or 3) introduction of higher yield agricultural practices in a developing country.
Even though international collaborators may face many of the same challenges as research conducted with domestic collaborators, there may be additional challenges that can further complicate the investigatory process:
- Conflicting research paradigms, conventions, and standards of practice can compromise research integrity.
- Collaborators may not share the same professional jargon, speak the same language, or understand critical cultural variations.
- There may also be a difference of opinion as to what the research mission is and how it should be best accomplished.
- These differences may be compounded when dealing with collaborators coming from disparate settings such as academic institutions, government departments (foreign and domestic), non-governmental organizations, and private industry.
The term 'collaboration' implies that a team of individual researchers is working toward achieving a common goal. Although each team member may be responsible for a defined area of research, all researchers should understand how their work will contribute to the completion of the whole project. In other words, they must see the relationship between their individual efforts and the impact on the 'big picture'. Communication between collaborators is critical for a successful research effort. Communication can take place with collaborators in close proximity to each other (e.g. face-to-face) or through a long distance relationship. Although close proximity collaboration may enhance face-to-face interaction when appropriate, it does not guarantee that enhanced communication will take place.
Advances in technology that have facilitated communication include use of phones (land line, cellular, internet), mail (paper as well as electronic), online dissemination and sharing of information (chat rooms), and video conferencing. While each item offers on opportunity for synchronous/asynchronous communication, or simulated meetings, access to technology is no guarantee that collaborators will regularly communicate. Some researchers have significant reservations about an over-reliance on technology. Fitzpatrick, a nursing researcher, warns "There is value in face-to-face interactions with colleagues in nursing that will never be replaced by technology, no matter how sophisticated the tools" (1999). Any impediment to communication, technological or otherwise, may potentially be reflected in the quality of research.
Impact on RCR
Each investigator, whether conducting research as an individual or as a member of a collaborative team, should be aware of the need to preserve the integrity of the project by conducting research in a responsible manner. While collaboration does offer a number of benefits, researchers should be aware of potential RCR issues found in all collaborative types and formats (although some threats are more likely to occur in certain collaborative types than others). These RCR issues include a breakdown of communications (which can lead to initiating a host of other RCR threats), an unexplained deviation from protocol, uncooperative partners, a failure to resolve disagreements or unanticipated barriers (e.g. conflicting intellectual perspectives or discipline-specific paradigms, changing project expectations, unfamiliar culture and language), failure to honor responsibilities to other collaborators (e.g. completing assigned tasks, resource sharing), taking advantage of a disparity in power (e.g. in faculty and student collaborations), and providing inadequate supervision and monitoring of collaborators.
While collaboration may increase one's capacity to approach more complex research problems, it may also complicate how research is conducted. The next section will describe issues and complexities found at various stages of research collaboration.
Fitzpatrick, J. (1999). Editorial. Global Nursing Education: Visited and revisited, today and in the future. Nursing & Health Care Perspectives, 20(1):3.
Ganley B., Sheets, I., Buccheri, R., Thomas , S.A. , Doerr-Kashani, P., Widergren, R., Bolla, C., Stoker, D., West, D. (2004). Collaboration versus competition: results of an academic practice alliance. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 21(3): 153-165.
Massing D.E. (ed.) (1997). AUTM Licensing Survey: FY 1996. Association of University Technology Managers, Inc., 1997.
Mowery, D.C. (1998). Collaborative R & D: How effective is it? Issues in Science and Technology. Fall 1998. U.S. General Accounting Office. Technology Transfer: Administration of the Bayh-Dole Act by Research Universities. GAO/RCED-98-126, Washington , D.C.
Shamoo,A.E., Resnik, D.B. (2003). Responsible Conduct of Research. Oxford, Oxford University Press Inc.
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